In a ‘Mary Portas pilot town’ market

As you will know, if a regular reader of this blog, I make and retail Slate ware – mainly from my website – but also through Callington Country market and a few shops locally.  My usual outlet in Liskeard had been one of those shops that had closed in the past year, so when I was approached to have a stall at this new market I was both pleased and apprehensive. Apprehensive because I usually only do a few craft markets a year and this was a commitment of twice a month and because it was the first out-door market I have ever done! So what has this to do with Mary Portas, I hear you ask.

Well, as you can’t have failed to notice if you watch TV, Mary Portas is on a mission – to revitalise some of the country’s failing town centres – and after stiff competition from towns all round the country, Liskeard (a lovely old Cornish market-town, struggling in the economic climate, in a region of low wages, high house prices and with a record number of empty shops on the high street), is one of  her first twelve pilot towns.

For this market I teamed up with a friend who has worked outdoor markets for many years, Christine, of Cornish Creams who makes and sells fine skin care products made using all natural products, and rain-forest friendly ones at that!   Our products are so totally different that they make a nice contrast and the arrangement also covers me not being able to attend all day every time the market is to be run, due to other family commitments.

We arrived very early! Well, Christine said we needed to be there early, especially for the first one. She was right, but anyone who knows me will know that my natural wake-up time is eight o’clock, so struggling out of bed and into the shower at 5.45 was a trial!  And what a day I woke to. The forecast had been ‘overcast’ clearing later. Overcast turned out to be mist and drizzle as I drove to pick up my friend.

By the time we arrived at Liskeard the drizzle was  –  RAIN.

Now, the town council had been trying to get a market up and running again in the town for a while – but the opening co-incides with the Mary Portas initiatives and so her Channel 4 team were there to film some of the day as it unfolded.  As we were one of the first there they asked if they could film us setting up so our hands were filmed as we spread out our cloths to cover the tables – no products out, none of our banners or signs to show what we sell .. ah well – fame for our hands maybe but not for our products 🙁

Christine (Cornish Creams) and Ann (annmade - Slate ware) all set up

And the rain came down, as we arranged our stand and tried to hang our signs.  In a moment, when the rain paused, a neighbouring stall holder took a snap of us all set up.

Actors mix with shoppers in the rain

We were already thinking to ourselves ‘who in their right mind will come out to shop at this new outdoor market in the pouring rain?’.  Well we were amazed and pleased that the Liskeard people took no heed to the rain and turned out in force, in fact, not only from Liskeard but I met up with loads of people from all round the area that I knew from the various other groups I am, or have been, involved with, Poetry, Wreckers Border Morris, Bellydance, WI and other  markets so it was a lovely social time too.

UNintended entertainment

The rain kept coming, even past eleven when it had promised to clear from ‘overcast’ and the awnings were filling with water. Our intrepid town councilors went from stall to stall tipping out the water (all over themselves) and tightening up the sheets. It provided great unintended entertainment with cheers going up from the crowd .

Intended entertainment came later as the sun tried to shine though the now fine rain, in the form of a medieval enactment of a ‘court’ where ‘Mr Bun’ baker number one, accused ‘Mr Pasty’ baker number two, of  selling inferior bread.

The charges are read by the Town Crier


Dressed appropriately in medieval garb and addressing the crowd the plaintiffs made their case then samples of bread were distributed for the crowd to taste and judge. The Mayor  took the results by count of hands and the defeated Mr Pasty was led to the stocks to be pelted with wet sponges for selling his inferior bread, much to the amusement of the small children throwing them

Liskeard - on the Parade

Eventually the sun did shine and everything looked much better in the sun – and I ventured out to take this lovely snap of the border just behind our stand – looking positively Mediterranean with its flowers and palm tree!

The town council have taken up an empty supermarket right on the Parade (where this market was held) and it is in there that the New Pannier Market will be sited from September on – so we are saved the trials of the rain next time and hope the fun atmosphere continues as we  do this market every second and fourth Saturday from September to Christmas.

Lastly – an urgent message for DeborahKennedy2@….  please contact me back before 10/9/12 after which I must deem that you have refused the prize offered and make a re-draw.  And for my FWT? cheerleaders – the results on last Sunday were – same weight – but half inch down on both waist measurements!

New events are always exciting but also exhausting – have you ever run a market stall? Or even a stall for a local fete or charity – how did it make you feel to be the vendor rather than the buyer? I am always interested to hear other people’s experiences! Do tell..



3 thoughts on “In a ‘Mary Portas pilot town’ market

  1. Hi Wendy,
    I know what you mean! It was the only way I could do a regular Saturday market as most Saturday’s I have to be home for part of the afternoon (daughterly responsibilities). I am lucky to have a good friend who makes lovely stuff that is so different to my own, though the two types of product look great side by side, who will ‘mind the stall’ when I’m away.

  2. Speaking as the experienced half of the duo, I have to say that your baptism into the outdoor market trading life was certainly a baptism by tempest, if not by fire!

    But the whole day with the varied entertainments, both planned and impromptu was thoroughly enjoyable, wasn’t it? It was lovely to see so many people there enjoying the atmosphere and joining in.

    Let’s hope that we can introduce more of the folk in South East Cornwall to the many and varied uses of slate, and to Cornish Creams that you don’t eat!


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